EAST PALESTINE, Ohio (WKBN) – U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Michael Regan returned to East Palestine on Tuesday.
Regan held a roundtable with teachers and students at East Palestine High School and met with small business owners. He then went to the new Community Welcome Center to kick off its opening.
The center, located at 25 N. Market St., will serve as an informational center for residents on resources, such as cleaning options. It will be open every day from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Tuesday was Regan’s third visit to the village since the train derailment.
Regan’s visit was to highlight resources available to the community and provide an update on the federal response to the train derailment.
During a news conference Tuesday afternoon, Regan addressed the decision by the EPA to not test for dioxins. Dioxins refer to a group of toxic chemical compounds. Dioxins are highly toxic and can cause cancer, reproductive and developmental problems, damage to the immune system and can interfere with hormones.
Regan said he has heard residents loud and clear and is taking their concerns back to Washington. He said any testing decisions will be based on science.
During Regan’s visit last week, he ordered Norfolk Southern to clean up the area of the train derailment, including the removal of contaminated soil and water. Some of that contaminated soil will be moved to a location in the area — Heritage Thermal Services in East Liverpool.
The EPA also laid out several requirements for Norfolk Southern, and Regan said if the company didn’t abide by them, the EPA would complete the work and charge the company triple the cost.
According to the EPA, it is continuing to monitor air quality and has helped screen nearly 600 homes for any contaminants. The EPA is also assisting local authorities with water testing.
Melissa James has operated Manetta’s Furniture in East Palestine for the last couple of years. She lives right next door and has seen business fall off along North Market Street ever since the train derailed on Feb. 3.
“I’m a little worried as to where it’s gonna go. This is my livelihood,” she said.
She was among the handful of local people invited to the business roundtable with Regan.
“We haven’t really gotten any answers. Everything’s been hidden. So I just want answers as to what they’re gonna do and what their outlook is,” James said.
Others share her concerns, including farmers raising cattle they fear are being exposed now to cancer-causing dioxins.
“All the lambs being born, they’re gonna be eatin’ the grass. All the sheep, all the cows. This is a farming community,” said Terry McElroy, of Unity Township.
There’s now a place in town where some of those questions and concerns can be aired. The U.S. EPA is now using an old storefront as a Community Welcome Center.
“I can promise that as this community continues to look forward, we’re gonna be here every step of the way for as long as it takes,” Regan said.
Another of those invited to Tuesday’s roundtable at a local bakery admits social media has exacerbated the lack of trust many feel.
“There’s a lot of fear because of the misinformation. I think that we all need to rally around having a support of what is fact,” said Cheney Nezbeth with The Way Station.
In the meantime, back at Manetta’s Furniture, James said she didn’t hear much in the way of new information at the roundtable.
“I want answers. I want it night and day. I want it done and I want it cleaned. I want business to come back,” she said.
And James is not alone.